Bolton Council and Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service looking out for babies and toddlers

In Bolton, fire crews have placed a special focus on trying to keep babies and toddlers safe. The Fire and Rescue Service distributes cots and Moses baskets to vulnerable families to try to reduce the risk of sudden infant death.


Plans are in place to adapt the home safety checks service to place more emphasis on keeping the under five’s safe. The Fire and Rescue Service in Bolton is helping babies and toddlers sleep safely by distributing cots and Moses baskets to vulnerable families in the community. The campaign, Safe Start, is a joint initiative between Bolton Council, the Bolton arm of Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) and the charity Urban Outreach, and is now in its second year.

In the first 18 months 140 cots were distributed by community safety advisers to families who have babies under the age of 18 months and did not have a safe place to sleep. The project was launched in a bid to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Every year 300 babies across the country die suddenly and unexpectedly in their sleep as a result of SIDS. The north west has the highest death rate in England and Wales.

While there is no advice that can guarantee the prevention of SIDS, there are a number of things parents and carers can do to reduce the risk to their baby. One of the most important is to provide a safe place for a baby to sleep - a cot or Moses basket in their parents’ bedroom. Babies who co-sleep in a parents’ bed, or sleep in a pushchair, car seat, or on a sofa, are at greater risk of SIDS.

The Safe Start programme involves health services, social care agencies and housing agencies in getting that message out.

Midwives or health visitors refer families to the programme. Urban Outreach, which is a Christian charity that gives support and care to those in need and provides emergency food parcels to struggling families, is responsible for ordering and storing the cots.

Derek Dempster, GMFRS Bolton Community Safety Manager, who is also a member of the Bolton Safeguarding Children Board, says he saw an opportunity for the fire service to deliver the cots and at the same time carry out home safety checks.

“The scheme gives us access to potentially vulnerable people so it really makes sense,” he says. “This is a great example of effective partnership working.”

While community safety advisers are in the home delivering the cot, they can assess how people live and give fire safety advice or make practical changes to reduce the risk of fire and other emergencies, such as fitting smoke alarms.

Mr Dempster says: “If people are using an old chip pan fryer we can replace them with a deep fat fryer. If there are people who smoke within the home, we can provide them with fire retardant throws and bedding.

Mr Dempster says people did not often refuse to be part of the Safe Start programme. “It’s not an intrusive service, and everything we give is free” he says.

After the fire officers have carried out their home safety check they send a follow-up report to the public health team at Bolton Council. Sharon Tonge is Bolton Council Health Improvement Practitioner (Communities) and the Sleep Safe and Safe Start Project Manager. She says the cot referral project was developed after an awareness campaign in 2011 – called Sleep Safe – discovered that not everyone could afford a cot or Moses basket. “We found that we had the highest incidence of cot deaths, and felt it was important to raise awareness,” Ms Tonge says.

“One of the problems, we discovered, was that people were confused about what was okay and what wasn’t. We needed to get a consistent message out to parents, and to do this it had to be embedded into all of the services who had contact with parents.”

Ms Tonge says the parents of every baby born in Bolton should get this information. All health care professionals – from midwives, health visitors, caretakers in children’s centres and health centres and the community safety advisers – undergo a two-and-a-half-hour training session on how to get the Sleep Safe message out to families.

A guidance leaflet is also available at these agencies and is handed out by fire officers when they deliver the cot. The community safety adviser will also discuss the family’s sleeping arrangements and give advice on safe sleeping arrangements.

Mr Dempster says: “It’s a really good example of the Fire and Rescue Service and health and social services working well together. We have access to vulnerable people, and it’s not just about their fire safety where our actions are effective, it’s about people living in situations that may be beyond their control who can’t help being unsafe, or don’t even know what’s unsafe. Getting access to vulnerable people is important.”

While fire officers have access to vulnerable people, they are also able to recognise other issues that may be affecting their health such as drug use, smoking, alcoholism and poverty – and can refer or signpost them into other social or health services.

Falling asleep with a baby significantly increases the risk of SIDS if the parent is a smoker, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or just very tired. As a result of the programme, the Fire and Rescue Service is looking to adapt its home safety check to include ways to reduce the risk of accidents in the home to children under five. Previously the focus was on adults and children over five. The review is now in its final planning stages but additional equipment and advice could include the supply and fitting of corner cushions, cupboard door locks, bath mats, fire guards and scald prevention tea towels.

Contact: dempsterd@manchesterfire.gov.uk